The number of pedestrians killed on the streets of Montreal in 2019 has quietly climbed to a 10-year high of 20.
The woman struck at the corner of Somerled Ave. and Mariette St. in Notre-Dame-de-Grace in October has succumbed to her injuries, despite the heroic efforts of bystanders to lift the car she was trapped under. Montreal Police spokesperson Caroline Chevrefils confirmed the latest death on Monday.
And we’re not out of the woods yet. Two lives hang in the balance with a month to go in this bloody year.
A 72-year-old woman is in critical condition after being hit by an SUV in Ahuntsic-Cartierville on Saturday. And a 93-year-old man remains in hospital after an accident on Parc Ave. and Prince Arthur St. on Wednesday night.
You have to look back to 2009 for the last time 20 pedestrians died in Montreal. Sifting through police data, the number of pedestrian fatalities dipped gradually after that to a low of 11 in 2015. But it has been edging up ever since with 15 in 2016, 15 in 2017, 18 in 2018 and now at least 20 in 2019.
The pedestrian death toll is now higher than the homicide rate for 2019, which stands at 17 as of Monday. The number of homicides has actually declined in recent years. Though it reached 32 in 2018, it has been hovering around a record low of 23 in 2016 and 24 in 2017.
Unless we’re in for a particularly violent December, the reverse in these two trends could prove historic.
The pedestrian body count is climbing in spite of efforts to address the crisis. Montreal adopted the Vision Zero strategy in 2017, which seeks to reduce the number of casualties to none through a combination of street design and behavioural changes.
There has been progress, but it takes time to widen sidewalks and overhaul intersections. And some that have been flagged as dangerous — like the strangely configured morass that is de Maisonneuve Blvd., Upper Lachine Rd. and Decarie Blvd., where fatality No. 19 occurred — haven’t figured in plans to improve security.
The Quebec Highway traffic act was amended in 2018. The Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec has resorted to Just for Laughs-style gags to get its point across in awareness campaigns.
At the start of last month, the city and police held a press conference to warn the public that November tends to be a terrible month for accidents involving pedestrians. Boy, were they right.
After the 19th death, which eclipsed last year’s six-year high, Mayor Valérie Plante announced the city will spend $58.5 million over three years to reprogram traffic lights so pedestrians have countdown signals and up to six more seconds to cross. The city budget included $1 million to hire crossing guards for 45 more intersections in school zones.
Police and city officials held a special awareness session aimed at seniors in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce last week.
So we can’t say nothing is being done.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that there have been zero cycling deaths in 2019, according to Chevrefils, while one passenger and three drivers have died in car crashes.
So in surpassing the homicide rate, pedestrian fatalities have arguably become the leading causes of preventable death in this city. Getting struck by a car should be considered a public safety emergency at this point. But the very real danger doesn’t seem to register on the mean streets of Montreal.
In the past month, I’ve seen a driver flout two red lights downtown during the dark evening rush hour. Not burn red lights, but actually manoeuvre around stopped cars, look, then proceed through the intersection against the red — two blocks in a row. I’ve witnessed another motorist drive the wrong way down a one-way street into a bike lane to more easily park his car-share vehicle — despite being waved off by a cyclist (and myself).
I’ve also seen pedestrians ignoring the cross signals or meandering through busy intersections while staring at their smartphones. According to police, the pedestrian mowed down on Parc Ave. last week was several metres outside the crosswalk. Late at night.
It’s not about blaming the victim; it’s about saving life and limb. Caution and respect must be a two-way street.
But there is no denying who loses out when a car comes in contact with a human in its path. The sense of responsibility on the roads must shift accordingly. Until vehicles are recognized as and handled like potential lethal weapons, odds are pedestrian casualties will continue to outpace the homicide rate.